Rob Cordes
Rob Cordes

May 21, 2018

For 34 years, Rob Cordes immersed himself in education through teaching, administrative positions and a love of watching students progress and succeed in and out of the classroom.

Originally from Wellsburg, about 70 miles east of Fort Dodge, Cordes received his degree in elementary education and physical education from Buena Vista University in 1984. He went on to pursue a master’s degree in professional studies and elementary education at Iowa State University and received a superintendent endorsement from the University of Northern Iowa in 2001.

Cordes’ education career began with 16 years at Manson Northwest Webster School District, where he taught middle-school science and was the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade principal.

In 2000, he became the Carroll Middle School principal, and for the past 14 years of his career, Cordes, 56, has served as the Carroll Community School District superintendent. His wife, Kathy, currently works as the Carroll High School guidance counselor.

Cordes said he’s leaving Carroll Schools in a strong financial position. The district is in the midst of a stadium renovation and is seeing an enrollment increase for the upcoming school year.

 

DAILY TIMES HERALD: Since joining the Carroll Community School District, what changes have you seen in Carroll?

Cordes: Probably the biggest changes I’ve seen over the years is the use in how much technology is in the district. When I was middle-school principal, we implemented a one-to-one (computer) program with just seventh grade at the time. Now we’ve got one-to-one K-12.

 

DAILY TIMES HERALD: Kids today are born with technology in their hands. What do you think of that change, and how does that impact students in the classroom?

Cordes: In some ways, it’s necessary. It may be a necessary evil. They grow up with it, so when they come to us, many of them certainly are used to using it and can use it pretty well.

 

DAILY TIMES HERALD: What has it been like to watch the Carroll Community School District not only grow but diversify with immigrants and refugees moving into the area?

Cordes: The population has certainly changed over the 18 years I’ve been here. Demographics certainly have changed, not only in the school but in the community as well. While there’s still not what I would call a lot of diversity in our schools, there’s more diversity now than there ever has been. When our graduates leave us, most of them are going to into a more diverse setting than what they have here.

 

DAILY TIMES HERALD: As students leave and move on to more urban settings, what do you see happening to Carroll in the next 20 to 30 years? How have you worked to retain students in rural areas like Carroll?

Cordes: That will be interesting to see, because the jobs that are here, they certainly will require some postsecondary school. They will not require a four-year degree. I am talking about from welders, to carpenters, plumbers, construction workers — you have it. Those are the jobs that are available, and you can make a very good living doing that.

 

DAILY TIMES HERALD: Do you think the Carroll schools are doing a good job at skills training and helping students see that they can have a job here in Carroll after they graduate?

Cordes: I think the bigger question is: How many of those students go off to some type of schooling and postsecondary training and then come back to the community? When students go to Rotary, one of the Rotarians always asks that question: ‘Do you see yourself coming back to Carroll?’ Some just flat-out say no, but the ones that do will say ‘Yes, but I want to go experience some other things. I could see myself coming back to Carroll to raise my family.’ We certainly see that now in some of our alumni that have come back and started careers here and things like that.

 

DAILY TIMES HERALD: What direction do you see small schools like Carroll Community School District headed in the future?

Cordes: I would say the biggest hurdle for schools in this part of the state is not only the number of students dwindling but being able to hire staff. A number of years ago it would not be uncommon, especially in Carroll, if there was an elementary opening, to have anywhere from 125 to 150 applicants. That’s not the case anymore. High school, you might get 25 to 30 candidates — now, we’re lucky to get five. Now you’re talking a (Class) 3A school, which is a decent-sized school in the state of Iowa, but we have candidates that will interview with us, and they’ll come here and they will say, ‘This is too far away from a metro area for me.’ My comment has been for several years, the young folks now don’t want to be 90 minutes from a concert. They don’t want to be 90 minutes from a metro area. Being able to retain and attract employees is certainly going to be a hurdle in this area as well as other parts of the state.

 

DAILY TIMES HERALD: It’s hard to find qualified teachers, especially for math and science. How have you worked through that the past few years?

Cordes: That’s tough. I would say hope is not a strategy. We’ve been lucky to find people, and find quality people in many of those positions, and in some cases while 15 or 20 years ago we might be able to lure a more experienced person, now we’re looking at maybe somebody right out of college or maybe (with) one or two years of experience. That’s going to be a hurdle.

 

DAILY TIMES HERALD: What would you say are some of your greatest accomplishments in the past 18 years of being at this school district?

Cordes: I’m not here to talk about my accomplishments. I would rather talk about the accomplishments of our students. I’m proud of them and what they have done. I’m certainly proud of the staff that we have here and what they do for kids. I think they go out of their way to help our students.

 

DAILY TIMES HERALD: A few months ago, someone created a fake Twitter account pretending to be you. With that and everything else going on with social media today, how have you seen social media transform and not only help but also hurt the younger students in school today?

Cordes: I think the social media is certainly, in my opinion, has gotten out of hand in many ways. I think it’s easy to sit behind a computer or on a cellphone and belittle and downgrade peers if that’s what they seem to think they need to do, but I think it’s also hard to be able to control that. I give the example of this fall, I believe it was, we had a bus accident right down here at the corner, and before I could get down there and back to my office, which is probably less than 100 yards, it was all over social media — with pictures. I didn’t even have time to get on our message system and let the parents know that the students were fine. It’s the old adage of ‘If it’s on the internet, it must be true,’ is what some folks believe, and many times it’s not.

 

DAILY TIMES HERALD: What do you think the new collective bargaining laws that restrict teachers or public employees from bargaining for wages and working conditions, among other things, will do to schools in Iowa?

Cordes: It will certainly be interesting to see how that plays out. I don’t know if it’s going to have the impact that a lot of people think it’s going to have or the Legislature thought it’s going to have, because at the end of the day, you still need employees, and you can’t just say, ‘Well, this is what we’re going to do,’ and not give them a voice or any say in it, because there ares other places they can go. The districts that continue to talk to people and talk to their employee groups and bargain on certain things — I think that gets around, and those are the places where people will want to work. I think there will be some changes as far as what’s in the contract and what’s in the handbook or what’s in policy. I think more people will be included in that process.

 

DAILY TIMES HERALD: You have been in the education field for 34 years, and over that time, the number of students going to school to become teachers has slowly declined. What would you say to someone thinking about going to college to become an educator but unsure of the future of teachers specifically here in Iowa?

Cordes: They have to have the passion for it. If they don’t have the passion for it, then I would certainly tell them that they better go do something else. If they think they are going to get rich doing it, then I think they are in for a rude awakening as well, but more than anything I think they have to have that passion.

 

DAILY TIMES HERALD: What are some memories that stand out to you over the past 18 years here? Is there anything you would like to highlight that has meant a lot to you?

Cordes: The gains in student achievement. I think that certainly stands out probably more than anything else. I think the educational program here is outstanding. I think our facilities are second-to-none. While this building is quite old, it’s still very well maintained — well kept as all of our facilities are. It will certainly be interesting to see when the stadium project is done and how that all works and fits into the community. I think the additions that we have done to our facilities not only for educational purposes but for safety purposes are certainly a highlight. I think how our kids perform not only inside the classroom but outside the classroom, not only with athletic activities but extracurricular activities, whether that’s speech, drama, you name it — we’ve got some awfully talented kids. I’m sure every superintendent thinks the kids in his or her district are the best, but I think ours are top-notch.

 

DAILY TIMES HERALD: Where do you see security enhancements in schools heading after the recent threats at both Carroll and Kuemper high schools, along with recent school shootings?

Cordes: Student safety is certainly going to continue to be a hot topic, and districts are going to have to do anything they can in order to keep students and staff safe. I certainly don’t have crystal ball on where that is. You can only do everything you can do. You just hope that it certainly doesn’t happen where you are. I think it’s certainly every school administrator’s fear.

 

DAILY TIMES HERALD: In your opinion, what are some ways schools in Carroll and the city of Carroll can create a more diverse community? How can they work to become more accepting?

Cordes: I think it takes a culture shift. If you look at the communities — and when I say communities, but also school districts that are growing that are not around metro areas — it’s the diverse population that is increasing. I think in order for Carroll to continue to be vibrant and to continue to grow and be progressive, more diversity will be necessary. It will also be necessary in order to have enough of a workforce in order to build many other jobs.

 

DAILY TIMES HERALD: What do you plan to do next?

Cordes: Look for a job. I’m open to anything. I certainly will never say that I will never get back into education, but I think 34 years for me is enough at this point.

 

DAILY TIMES HERALD: Is there anything else you would like to add about your career in education or your time spent in Carroll?

Cordes: I certainly have enjoyed not only the school but the community as well. It’s a great place to raise a family. I certainly want to thank all of those that I have worked for and worked with. I’ve enjoyed my time here. Part of me will always be a Tiger.